Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wanted to share

I am in India after a brief stay in Dubai. The flavors of food and words are flirting with my soul. Family and friends are showering my husband and I with indescribable generosity. My head is full of ideas. My heart is itching to write about my voyage (Believe me, I got tons of anecdotes and tales). My laptop and journal are waiting to be drowned under the pressure of my finger tips. So much to tell but such little time. The clock betrays me along with the traffic here. I promise to pen down what's been on my mind. Soon. But until I get the chance to do so, I wanted to share a couple of things with you:

It's a big evening tonight, professionally. But enough about me. For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, have a wonderful holiday! Enjoy your time with family and friends. And nibble on a piece of turkey for me. I am sad to miss the celebrations this year!

More until next time,


Copyright © 11.23.2010

“Time discovers truth.” Seneca

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I have converted

One of my Nana’s (maternal grandfather) good friend was Muslim. Apparently, one day when my Nani (maternal grandmother) had organized a Satyanarayan Puja, he showed up. She asked him if he wanted the prasad. He accepted it readily with both his hands. But within seconds, he threw the religious offering on the floor, stomped it, and spat on it. My Nana didn’t say anything, but my Nani, who was four feet eleven inches of fierceness, fiery temper, and indescribable beauty, decided to teach this fellow a lesson.

A week later, she told my Nana’s friend that she wanted to visit a mosque. He was thrilled, but informed her that she couldn’t enter the place of worship. My Nani confirmed said she was fine with it and would be happy to see it from the outside. As the three of them drove up to the entrance, my Nani turned to this man and said, “Oh brother, is this where you sacrifice pigs?” My Nana’s friend threw a hissy fit and asked my Nani how she could ever say something so sacrilegious. She retorted back, “The same way you could insult my prasad.”

After that day, the families didn’t speak with each other. My mother’s family grew up with that anecdote deeply embedded in their subconscious. How powerful was that story, you ask. Even decades later, I can regurgitate it as if it happened yesterday. And I can bet you the man’s family wouldn’t ever erase that one interaction with my Nani. As a result, two families of different religious faiths grew up generalizing, stereotyping, and mistrusting “the others.”

Truth is, my Nani and the Muslim man weren’t exceptions in their “judgment” or “reaction” to the other community. At least they had the guts to express (To the other person’s face) what was on their mind, however inappropriate on the social and sentimental front. Every family has its own personal story that it considers sacred and uses it to defend against the “enemies.”

Most people from my parents’ generation were born around the time of India-Pakistan’s partition. It was impossible for them to see the good in another community because of their experiences. And a broken heart is mistrustful and sometimes unintentionally malicious. The potion of hatred was brewed in all homes. People drank from it and passed it on to us. And apparently the same happened in Pakistan.

The first time I realized that we hear only one side of the story, is when one of my Pakistani-American friends narrated the India-Pakistan partition horror to our professors at Columbia University. At first, I was affronted. How dare he badmouth India? We didn’t do any wrong. But as his stories got descriptive, I backed off. They sounded just like what I had heard from Indians. The only difference was that instead of Hindus being victims in his story, Muslims were the suffering characters.

I conceded that it wasn’t just Indian women who were raped or brutalized by the “enemy.” It wasn’t just Hindus who had lost their land or were embittered. When a country is divided, both sides deal with excruciating pain. The British Government then was the master of this puppet show. And they made sure the two sides hated each other with a passion. The young Muslims were told that Hindus killed uninhibitedly while the Hindus were informed that Muslims massacred without a blink.

Because of where we live, the truth presented and often available is only one-sided. We all grow up with baggage. Our parents’ experiences influenced our thoughts. Their stories shaped our opinions. But I wonder if they blinded us, even if partially?

Our ancestors were a part of the history that cost them their loved ones and homes. It won’t be easy for them to forgive, forget, and move on. But what about us? We still have the time to make a difference. Can we move past the notion that every Hindu is a Shiv Sena representative, every Muslim is an Islamic fundamentalist, or every Christian is on a mission to convert the weakest link?

Isn’t it our responsibility to make an effort to blindly not accept everything presented to us? Our parents didn’t have the same exposure as we do. Thanks to them, we are well educated, well traveled, and well read. So why are we fooled by the games of politics every single time? Why do we fall prey to the guile of riot-causing, home-wrecking, people-burning, self-centered politicians? It is in their best interest that religion be the choice of weapon. If there is anyone in the world enjoying deaths and differences, it’s people in power.

A friend said to me, “What? You like Pakistanis more?” I replied, “I don’t have such a big heart, yet. But I am learning to not label all of them as murderers out to get Indians. I am trying to see the difference between the Pakistani government, whom I still don’t trust, and the Pakistani populace.”

Some one dear to me recently shared that their closest friends, who happen to be Pakistanis, are petrified about moving back to Pakistan. This couple has boys of impressionable age. The parents aren’t sure how the government and school will tamper with the kids’ minds and show them the “wrong” way. As far as I see, the government is causing the mess even in Pakistan, like other countries.

Why can’t we choose to absolve humans of the religious faith they were born into? Most of us weren’t born into acceptance, but we have to at least make an honest effort to break the shackles of bigotry. Shouldn’t we stop punishing today’s generation for the mistakes committed by their forefathers?

When I was talking to a writer-friend in London the other day, she said, “I like what you write. Your voice and the force of truth.” I said to her, “I discover myself and the world around me with writing. And it’s not always pretty. It’s not a surprise my husband thinks I will be on the death list of "people" before I turn forty.” I am unsure if I should add a smiley or a sad face at the end of that last sentence.

More until next time,


Copyright © 11.10.2010

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We need writers, not politicians, to make the world a better place, I think!

I have heard many people say that Arundhati Roy should focus on what she knows best: Literature. Politics isn’t her field, and she should restrict her opinions to books and writing. Okay, here is my question: As a citizen of democratic India, doesn’t she have the right to her opinion just like any of us, including the people who made this ludicrous suggestion? She didn’t instigate a criminal act. Are folks so generous with their dislike because she is a writer who knows her words and can articulate her thoughts better than most of the nation’s uneducated, biased, and corrupt politicians who have only their personal agendas at stake? Or is it because the majority fears a thinker will nudge the populace out of their comfort zones?

My mother has always said, “It’s your thoughts that make you modern, not your clothes.” Today when I look at the Indian middle class, I understand exactly what she means. News headlines all over the globe predict that the Indian middle class is expected to lead the world economy by 2025. Impressive, right? I too was proud about all this growth until I realized that some changes are only superficial. And growth is a loaded word. It seems modernism is equated with the brands stocked in wardrobes, or the cars driven, or the vacations taken. What about thinking?

I have met socialites in Pune who confessed they wanted non-Maharashtrians to move out of their state. Of course, they admitted their feelings in a drunken state of stupor; they were courteous to the *outsiders* while sober. It makes me wonder if all this exposure has taught this ever-expanding segment to camouflage their dislikes better. They pretend to be liberal, but are closeted conservatives who want to censor and ban anything that they don’t have an appetite for.

Aditya Thackeray made sure Rohinton Mistry’s book, Such a Long Journey, was banned from the syllabus of University of Mumbai because he thought the book reflected poorly on his state and family. A twenty-two year-old boy, not professors, decides what the entire second year students at the university should read because he’s related to a powerhouse? Are we so self-centered that we have no room for respecting an opinion when we don’t agree with it? Is nationalism confused with patriotism and leads to a display of vandalism?

We have made a mockery of ourselves in front of the world by calling ourselves the world’s largest democracy. Again, no one is saying that you have to agree with Arundhati. I don’t for sure. But vandalizing her home because you don’t appreciate her thought process reflects small-mindedness. Or excluding Mistry’s book is a gross display of ignorance and abuse of power. Because people didn’t get what the two writers had to say, they tried to silence them! God, is this world a high school and all the players delinquents who want their egos petted?

My father worries about my provocative and cynical writing (Click here to see the latest). Don’t for a moment think that he’s isn’t proud of me. But as a father of an Indian woman, he fears for my safety. I didn’t quite understand his “warnings” until the whole Arundhati Roy episode happened. I can no longer blame him. In a country where the majority doesn’t like to be intellectually challenged or defend the right to freedom of speech, democracy will always go to the highest bidder. The super hit goon movie, “Dabangg” and record sales of badly written books are a testimony to the infallible taste of the Indian middle class.

On Tuesday evening, I attended Terror-Stricken: Benefit Against Islamophobia. It was an intimate evening with words and wine, to say the least. Amitava Kumar, finalist for the biggest literary prize in India, and Hari Kunzru, one of Granta's top 20 writers under 40 had a compelling discussion with Faiza Patel, Counsel in the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learnt in one evening. Did I agree with everything that was said? Maybe not. But that’s not a reflection on the panelists or the audience. They were all brilliant! But it was enlightening to hear different stances on the same issue. Disagreeing while respecting someone else’s viewpoint. Reaffirming Voltaire’s words: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

At dinner that evening, a writer and a new friend said to me: “As writers it is our responsibility to stand up for our beliefs, express our opinion, and fearlessly raise questions. Cynicism might be a shield to protect ourselves.” I agree with her. We offer what the world lacks most: Perspective. It might not always be easy. And often, owning a spine might involve risk (Sorry, Papa). But you know what, we owe it to the human race which is simmering inside a broth of prejudice. Honestly, I can’t imagine some one else doing a better job, especially when politicians around the world are very happy to milk ignorance and create rifts for their bloody benefits!

More until next time,


Copyright © 11.04.2010

“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Joan Didion